Inspirational leaders reflect on fond ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup memories
If it’s inspiration that those heading to South Africa 2020 seek, they need look no further than the tournament-winning captains of ICC Under-19 World Cups past.
Batsmen and bowlers across the world have come to the fore in the competition and the leaders of tomorrow proved they can do it too, with Sarfaraz Ahmed, Aiden Markram and Josh Hazlewood among those honing their skills in previous years.
Gaining vital experience and laying the foundations for a successful career, the trio have all gone on to play integral roles across all formats, agreeing that the competition proved pivotal in their development.
Sarfaraz has been Pakistan's ODI captain for almost three years, climbing the international ladder after leading his country to victory in the U19 World Cup back in 2006.
The wicket-keeper, who snared six victims in the knockout stages en route to Pakistan’s win over India in the final, says the role of the competition cannot be overstated in stimulating young players’ development.
“It is indeed a massive platform for youngsters,” the 32-year-old said.
“Whatever I learned at U19-level helped me shape my career and the platform provided at this level was the best possible education for me leading up to my international career.
“I loved the experience of playing the U19 World Cup, I captained Pakistan in the tournament and the experience helped me immensely as I graduated to captain senior sides and eventually the rise to Pakistan men’s team’s captaincy in all three formats.
“I hope we see some exciting talent emerge not only from Pakistan but from around the world, the future stars of the next 10-15 years will get their first global exposure in South Africa and I am sure we will see some exciting cricket once the tournament begins.”
Sarfaraz is an experienced customer at international level having made more than 100 ODI appearances since his debut in 2007, but one player in the earlier stages of his burgeoning career is South Africa batsman Markram.
The 25-year-old opener has enjoyed a promising start to his international career, first catching the eye after being named Player of the Tournament at the 2014 U19 World Cup after scoring 370 runs at an average of 123.
And Markram, who compiled an unbeaten 66 not out and captained his team to victory over Pakistan in the final, believes the U19 World Cup was unequivocally influential in the growth of his career.
“It can be a big inside lane for certain players, the guys who have a great U19 World Cup, lots of guys around from different countries, you see how quickly they can get fast-tracked,” he said.
“It is exciting for players, a good U19 World Cup can potentially lead to a World Cup debut in 12 months, like Kagiso Rabada, it is exciting for them and it is an awesome opportunity for them to showcase how good they are.
“It is your first taste of what international cricket is like, you get treated, almost spoilt, life seems really amazing when you are there, people go the extra mile for you.
“It is really awesome, but I think you get a bit of an insight of how it could be for you one day.”
Another player who enjoyed a similarly successful U19 World Cup was Australia bowler Hazlewood, who has now made 44 ODI appearances and taken 72 wickets since his debut as a teenager against England back in 2010.
The 28-year-old was the youngest player in his country’s squad in the 2008 U19 World Cup but came to the fore two years later, playing a superb supporting role for captain Mitchell Marsh with four for 30 in the final against Pakistan.
And having also taken four wickets in the semi-final and two in the last eight, Hazlewood has fond memories of the competition and knows just how much the U19 World Cup did for him.
“The U19 World Cup was the first time I represented my country and confirmed in my mind that I wanted to be a cricketer,” he said.
“Once you get a taste of that, the hunger to work hard and experience that again only grows.
“Undoubtedly winning the U19 World Cup was the highlight of the tournament – we had a pretty handy side with the likes of Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson and Kane Richardson and we put it all together against Pakistan in the final.
“For many players, the U19 World Cup is the first time you take on some of the best players from around the world – it is a great eye opener to the hard work and preparation you need to succeed.
“You might even run into the next Virat Kohli or Pat Cummins and get some hints on how to combat them in the future.”